So it turns out, I’m a Scientist

On some level, I always knew that I was going to become a scientist when I “grew up”. I don’t remember voicing this to the adults around me as a child. I do recall telling my mother once that I wanted to be a teacher – her reply having something to do with not making enough money effectively squashing that type of conversation again. The child of two engineers with Masters degrees, I knew they wanted greatness for me, but I had no idea what that would translate to. At an impressively young age, they had lengthy conversations about education, opportunities, and being your own advocate with me. They even bought me books that reinforced that I could be anything I wanted when I grew up. One of them, with a pink cover, highlighted how to become a woman engineer. Oh the propaganda!

I have vivid memories of one particular Hanukkah when one of my eight gifts was a child’s microscope and slide set. This gift entertained me and captured my attention to no end. Some of the slides were prepared with common stimuli, and others were blank, calling the budding scientists to explore the microscopic world of everyday things. I recall asking friends and family for samples of their saliva and hair and skin to look at under the microscope. This must’ve been slightly off-putting, from a 10-year-old child, but I was indulged more often than not. This training proved useful in high school biology class, enough so that I passed the AP test and never took a formal lab science in college as part of my academic career. I would later regret that.

It wasn’t until 17 years following the microscope gift when I was at the end of my graduate school training – injecting rats with illicit drugs, dissecting their brain tissue, and processing it through analytical chemistry machines to determine what effect the drugs had had on neurotransmitter levels – that I looked down at myself in my white coat and my purple nitrile gloves and realized that I was a scientist. My colleagues and I had spent five years cheering at the word “science”, referring to ourselves “scientists”, and were all card-carrying members of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), but it took that poignant moment at the end of my training to realize that I was pursuing the dream that I had to have known (on some level) that I always had. Fast forward another couple of years, and my science today is very different. Instead of dealing with illicit drugs and animal models of drug abuse, I deal with vegetables and schoolchildren. I am involved in asking what I think are still very important questions like: Why are children uninterested in eating healthy food? What can we do to make vegetables more enticing knowing that nutrition is the foundation upon which our biological systems rest? And can beet hummus all of a sudden become more attractive solely dependent upon the type of plate it is served upon? Amongst others…

So I am a scientist. I am a “doctor” (something my parents are quite pleased about), holding a PhD in the field of Behavioral Neuroscience and classically trained in Psychology. I am not a licensed clinician, so I cannot, and do not, diagnose and treat mental illness. I am an academic. I split my time between teaching and research. I am fortunate enough to be working for a University that allows me to prioritize my teaching, and provide me with the venue and regulatory bodies to conduct research. I am happy as a clam being a scientist.

But what is Science? Aside from it being a word we wrote on the front of notebooks as early as elementary school, and knew to be one of the core subjects, do we all have a firm understanding of Science, the different types, how it functions, and its current role in society?

Scientia is the Latin word for “knowledge”. Science is our currently used best attempt to systematically collect and organize knowledge, via a fairly standardized process. Take a step back and picture that, all knowledge is derived via science and scientific methods. I feel honored to be part of that process, to have contributed, to be contributing to what is known about our world and existence. You are probably very aware that there are many different types of science. Everyone is typically partial to some over others, but I guarantee each of them plays a role in our lives whether we are functionally conscious of it or not.

Amongst others:

  • Natural Sciences include Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Earth Science.
  • Formal Sciences include Computer Science, Mathematics, and Statistics.
  • Social Sciences include Anthropology, Economics, Law, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Psychology
  • Applied Sciences include Agriculture, Education, Management, and Food Science.

All of these different fields use the scientific method to ask and answer questions about their respective interests. This formulaic method allows scientists to test hypotheses and add to existing theoretical understanding in a given field. Use of this method assumes determinism and rationalism. These ideas convey the idea that events have causes, and by using agreed-upon methods these causes can be discovered with some degree of confidence, respectively. This is an accepted way of knowing.

My future entries will be commenting on the findings from many scientific fields, mostly those that interest me. Some days I will relate my own work, and others I will talk about scientific events that become popular in the layperson media. I am an educator at heart and hope that you learn something new in each post. That’s a lofty goal, I know, so even if you knew all of this already, feel free to play along every now and again.

About Dr. Jen

Resident scientist and self-described as awesome.

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